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Foreign Firms Face Penalties
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A senior official at the environment watchdog Monday vowed to mete out equally harsh punishments to domestic and foreign-funded firms that violate environmental laws.

Ren Longjiang, an official with the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), said all enterprises must obey environmental laws and regulations.

He made the marks after Unilever China and the China branch of Hitachi Construction Machinery Co, the only two foreign-funded companies targeted in a random inspection by the environmental watchdog earlier this year, were found discharging more wastewater than permitted.

"We were surprised to find both companies had pollution problems as they were the only two foreign companies selected at random for the inspection," Ren said.

"Environmental pollution caused by foreign-funded companies has come to the attention of SEPA, and we will strengthen our supervision," Ren told the Xinhua News Agency.

On May 24, a SEPA inspection team found that Unilever's plant in Hefei, Anhui Province, had discharged wastewater with a chemical oxygen demand (COD) of 379 mg per liter. The legal limit for this measure of organic pollutants is 330 mg/l. The company is part of a multinational group that produces soap, shampoo and other cleaners.

The company was fined 100,000 yuan ($13,000) and ordered to scale back production to discharge less wastewater. Unilever has also paid fees of 47,136 yuan for excessive discharges.

During the same inspection, the China branch of Hitachi Construction Machinery CO, which is also located in Hefei, was found to have discharged wastewater with PH values - a measure of acidity or alkalinity - exceeding the legal limit.

In response to such problems, environmental officials and experts called for a cumulative daily penalty system to be included in the water pollution prevention law, which is being amended and received its first review last month.

"The daily penalty system could effectively solve the problem of the high cost of compliance with the law, but negligible penalties," said Zhang Jianyu, program manager of the Beijing office of Environmental Defense, a US-based environmental non-governmental organization.

(China Daily September 18, 2007)

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